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How your family can mark Earth Day

Yes, it was started by a Democrat, but Earth Day is for everyone — especially kids

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The late environmental advocate John McConnell created this unofficial flag for Earth Day, using a photo taken by the Apollo 17 crew in 1972.

The late environmental advocate John McConnell created this unofficial flag for Earth Day, using a photo taken by the Apollo 17 crew in 1972.

Wikimedia Commons

Though Earth Day was founded in 1970 by a Democratic senator, the late Gaylord Nelson, recent years have seen the right increasingly embracing action to combat climate change.

There’s the Conservative Climate Caucus, which was founded by Utah Rep. John Curtis in 2021. Deseret contributing writer Benji Backer heads up the American Conservation Coalition, which will meet this June in Salt Lake City. And in March, the Citizens Climate Lobby hosted a “Conservative Climate Leadership Conference and Lobby Day” on Capitol Hill. The event brought conservative volunteers to the table with Republican politicians. 

“It was conservatives talking to conservatives and urging them forward on climate (change),” said Flannery Winchester, communications director for the nonpartisan organization. “Climate change doesn’t care if you’re in a red state or a blue state — a big storm or a flood or a fire isn’t going to select based on the political persuasion of an area.”

With this in mind, here are a few ideas for marking Earth Day with your children, regardless of your political affiliation:

Write to your congressman

There are the normal Earth Day activities, of course, like riding a bike, recycling or picking up litter in a local park, all of which are “really positive and show (children) they do have control over making their environment a better place,” said Nick Huey, a registered Republican, climate change activist and the father of a 7- and 5-year-old. 

The idea of leaving a place better than you found it is a “very conservative value,” said Huey, who in 2019 testified before the Senate Democrats’ Special Committee on the Climate Crisis, speaking about how Democrats should dialogue with conservatives about climate change. 

However, Huey suggested that parents also take their Earth Day actions a step further by introducing their children to the idea of governmental responsibility by writing a letter to their representative in Congress, requesting that they take action on the issue of climate change. 

“Climate change is something that has to be addressed legislatively and not at the individual level,” said Huey, who said that corporations bear a greater responsibility for pollution than citizens and, accordingly, the government needs to do some refereeing. 

And not only does family letter writing work in a little literacy exercise for the children, it’s “fun and has the potential to go a lot farther because you’re reaching out to the legislative process rather than just recycling for one day,” Huey said. 

Winchester shared a similar children’s activity from a South Carolina chapter of Citizens Climate Lobby: A Girl Scout troop drew pictures of themselves on postcards and, above the line “I need a livable world to fulfill my dreams,” they wrote what they want to be when they grow up.

A downloadable, printable template of the postcard can be found here

Trash art

For little ones who might not get the big picture of climate change and advocacy, you might try smaller activities, like making what we call in my home “trash art.” We use odds and ends that ordinarily end up in the garbage can or the recycling bin and “upcycle” them to turn them into art (year round, we have a special cubby for all the materials we think we could reuse for crafts — forcing us to constantly think about what we’re throwing away, what we’re using and how we’re using it).

There are professional artists who do this as well, including sculptor Willie Cole, who was recently profiled in The New York Times.

There are endless variations on trash art. You could go with the classic turn-a-milk-jug-into-a-bird-feeder (this video shows how to do this with a cardboard milk box but plastic jugs do the trick, too). Or you could go with something less utilitarian and more artistic like using bottle caps for painting instead of brushes or making flowers out of plastic lids.

Magazines that might be headed for the recycle bin can serve as fodder for collaging, and newspapers can be shredded for making papier-mâché. Egg cartons can be turned into amazing masks. Get creative!

There are also the more overtly Earth-themed activities, like painting flower pots and planting seeds or trees.

And there are plenty of great books to check out that tackle the issue of the environment. Try Dr. Seuss’s classic “The Lorax,” Shel Silverstein’s “The Giving Tree” and Janice May Udry’s “A Tree is Nice.” 

Stay involved

Citizens Climate Lobby has chapters all over the country, including Utah; you can find your local chapter and register on their website. One of the activities their younger volunteers are involved in is called “The Great School Electrification Challenge” that has youth activists approaching their school officials to encourage them to switch to clean electricity. 

And, of course, there’s the simple activity of talking with your children about the environment. While Huey said he hasn’t broached the topic of climate change with his kids yet because he doesn’t want to frighten them, he added, “We always talk about Earth stewardship and taking care of the Earth that God gave us.”